England Under-20s ended their French counterparts’ Grand Slam hopes with a 22-6 success in Béziers, getting back into the Under-20s Six Nations title race as a result.
Cameron Redpath’s first-half try proved crucial in difficult conditions at the Stade de la Méditerranée, and the English defence shut down the previously free-scoring French, who finished the game with 13 men.
France dominated the early exchanges with the wind at their backs, and after an early missed penalty, Romain Ntamack gave them a three-point lead with a long-range penalty.
England came back and could have levelled matters but Tom Hardwick’s penalty attempt was dragged wide.
The French scrum had the upper hand but they were struggling to take their chances against a solid English defence, and weren’t helped by the loss of centre Arthur Vincent and skipper Killian Géraci to injury.
Having spent much of the half on the back foot, England came into their own with a penalty from Hardwick, and the momentum had clearly shifted.
That was quickly followed by a break through the middle by skipper Ben Earl. While Ntamack was able to bring him down, the ball was quickly shifted out to the wing and Redpath dived over in the corner. Hardwick’s conversion made it 10-3 to the visitors at half-time.
The English had the conditions with them in the second half and started strongly with another penalty from Hardwick making it a two-score lead for the visitors.
France, meanwhile, had lost a third player to injury, winger Iban Etcheverry the man who limped off leading to a reshuffle of their backline.
But Les Bleuets turned to their maul to get back into the game, with one huge drive stopped five metres short of the line, but illegally, leading to a yellow card for Earl. The French could not take advantage from the resulting lineout, with the throw not straight.
France were on top and set up camp in the English 22, but with the powerful wind and the rain coming down, they paid the price for their lack of accuracy, with England keeping them out while Earl was off.
France finally got back to within a score when Ntamack slotted a penalty after a Cameron Woki break had led to an English offside.
A second break from Woki, going almost 40 metres, got France back into position, but this time the English defence got back well to earn a penalty for holding on.
Instead England were able to restore their ten-point lead ten minutes from time thanks to a powerful scrum, Hardwick making no mistake from 35 metres out.
And the French evening got worse when Pierre-Henri Azagoh and Hassane Kolingar were sent off for a dangerous tackle on Fraser Dingwall.
Hardwick knocked over the resulting penalty, and then another as England got the better of the six-man French scrum.
The win moves England level with France in the overall standings, with both teams on 15 points, although the French stay top with a points difference of +110 to +44 for the English.